The two blocs within MAS

Only days after handing over his irrevocable resignation as hydrocarbons minister on September 15, Andres Soliz Rada, described by many as the strongman of left-wing President Evo Morales who pushed a hard line on the nationalisation of gas, lashed out “against a sector of the government” that did not want things to get done.

He claimed that he resigned because he would prefer to step down than to annul a ministerial resolution placing all control of prices and commercialisation of gas into the hands of the Bolivian state-owned oil company YPFB. Petrobras, a state-owned Brazilian corporation that would be most affected by the resolution, and the Brazilian government have come out strongly against the resolution.

Morales came to power on the back of social unrest and mass protests, at the centre of which was the issue of nationalising Bolivia’s formidable gas reserves.

Soliz Rada’s resignation and his subsequent replacement by the more moderate former minister for planning, Carlos Villegas — who immediately spoke of the need to move away from confrontation and towards a period of negotiation — has led many to speak about growing internal fractures between the hard “confrontation” and softer “negotiation” lines within Morales’s party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

Regular La Paz-based Green Left Weekly correspondent and long-time researcher on the origins and structures of MAS Pablo Stefanoni gives his assessment on the unfolding discussion. Stefanoni is co-author (with Herve do Alto) of the recently published Evo Morales: From Coca to the Palace.

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SEPTEMBER 21 — The two clashing political lines of the Evo Morales government are today treading on muddy territory that has put a brake on — and put in doubt — the government’s line of march. The resignation of Andres Soliz Rada as hydrocarbons minister has put in relief the lack of governmental homogeneity on the nationalisation of gas and petroleum.

So much so that the deadlock in the Constituent Assembly, which convened on August 6, threatens a premature loss of prestige for those who have the mission of writing a new constitution for Bolivia, which will construct the pillars of a second, “post-colonial” republic.

The exit of Soliz Rada appeared as a door-slam, and revealed evidence of various problems that the Morales administration faces. Two of them: the deficit of political coordination between the ministers and the president — which has already been admitted to in the government’s self-evaluation — and the powers of ministers being chipped away, with their wings clipped by the centralisation of the decisions in the hands of Morales and his vice-president, Alvaro Garcia Linera. That’s how Soliz Rada explained it when he said that he could not even name his own collaborators.

On top of this is another deficit that Soliz Rada did not mention: the absence of spaces for political debate inside of the government, and an empiricism that shines, at the moment, for its improvisation. Within this scenario, Soliz Rada was accused of tackling debates that could not be had out inside the executive through the mass media.

There are two explanations on the table to justify all these and other difficulties that have confronted the process of democratic and cultural revolution in MAS’s first eight months of government: the first is the right-wing plot with US support, the second problem is one of an administration made up of a political personnel without experience in the management of a state. Some even risk claim that the problem is the indigenous president’s “white entourage”.

But are these two responses enough — if they are true — to explain, for example, why Morales, from Havana, denounced North American intrigues to overthrow him, while Garcia Linera was in the United States, appealing to their good sense so that Washington would renew the preferential tariffs for Bolivian products within the framework of the ATPDA (Law for Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication), the trade agreement with the Andean countries in exchange for their participation in the fight against narco-trafficking and the cultivation of coca?

In front of this, many fall into the temptation of looking for internal political lines within MAS and the government. That is why terms such as “guevarismo”, “indigenismo” and “liberation theology” are bandied about, types of magic formulas with scarce correlation to reality.

The truth is that MAS is not a party but rather a diffuse and unstable confederation of ideological factions. City/countryside, originarios (first indigenous peoples)/invited (non-indigenous people invited to be part of the movement), unionists/intellectuals.

“Where the trade unions function well, there is not need for a parallel [political] structure”, explained Morales from the cocalero regions of the tropics of Cochabamba. But what is happening in the cities where the tendency towards union-sectorial structures are less common?

That is where we find a much more opportunist adherence, associated in part with expectations of positions in the state. This is how political clientalism structures the internal alignments, which have gotten to the point of violence — last Sunday a reunion of District 15 of La Paz finished in blows with the kidnapping of supporters of the majority line and police intervention.

In the municipalities of Quillacollo and Sacaba, in Cochabamba, fights with sticks, rocks and dynamite extended over the last few days in the streets. On top of this, there is the denouncing of corruption and undue influence of MAS members by other MAS members in the mass media.

“All this means that the opposition [to the Morales government] is disconcerted, because they insist in codifying the MAS as a party and not as the political arm of the social movements”, said MAS constituent assembly delegate Raul Prada, who is counted as one of the “invited”.

Nevertheless, coming out of the oil crisis and the entanglement of the Constituent Assembly, two lines are appearing to emerge, more sociological than political, and associated with interpretive frameworks, lifestyles and levels of radicalism.

They could be grouped — although not without being a bit arbitrary — into two blocs: the “populist unionism” of Evo Morales and the social movements, and the “multiculturalist social-democracy” of Vice-President Garcia Linera and a sector of the functionaries and Constituent Assembly delegates from the middle class.

While in the first group the predominate logic is “friend/enemy” — antagonism between the people and the oligarchy and direct action over “institutionality” — the second favours a social-regional pact over a long time, gradualism in reforms, and a more institutional discourse.

It is no coincidence that it was the vice-president who negotiated the approval of the need for a two-thirds majority of the Constituent Assembly to approve the new constitution, which is now rejected by MAS and Evo Morales.

But, once again: the lack of spaces for debate means these differences are expressed in a disguised form of day-to-day politics. And the Bolivian left continues to be a jigsaw puzzle that must be put together.

From Green Left Weekly, September 27, 2006.

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